The Indian Mutiny of 1857 put an end to the authority of the British East India Company and marked the beginning of direct Crown rule, the ‘British Raj’, which lasted until 1947.

Several of my relatives served in the Company’s army and in the British regular forces; some were directly caught up in the chaos and violence of the 1857 insurrection.

Last year I wrote about my second cousin five times removed Lieutenant Matthew Hugh Reveley of the 74th Native Infantry. On 11 May 1857 at the age of 27 he was killed in the capture of the Cashmere Gate, an incident of the Mutiny in Delhi.

Kashmir Gate, Delhi, Punjab” photographed by Samuel Bourne  in the 1860s, showing damage from the Mutiny. In the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A relative from a different branch of my family, my first cousin five times removed Captain Rowland Mainwaring Smith of the 54th Bengal Native Infantry, was also killed that day, cut down by mutineers near the Delhi Church close to the Cashmere Gate. He was buried on the Ridge near Flagstaff Tower. His name is preserved on a memorial in Nicholson Cemetery, New Delhi:

Sacred To the Memory of Captain R. M. Smith, Captain C. Burrowes, Lieut't E. A. Edwards, Lieut't W. Waterfield. All of the 54th Reg't B. N. I. They were killed by the Mutineers of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry on the 11th May 1857, opposite the Church in the city of Delhi, this tribute to their memory and merits is erected by their surviving brother officers.

The inscription on the grave of Smith and his fellow officers, ‘on The Ridge near Flagstaff Tower’, was transcribed by Miles Irving in his A List of Inscriptions on Christian Tombs or Monuments in the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Kashmir and Afghanistan Possessing Historical or Archaeological Interest published in 1910.

Irving described the murder of Smith and his fellow officers:

When the rebel cavalry entered Delhi, the 54th under Colonel Ripley were ordered to march down from cantonments with two guns. Two companies were left behind to escort the guns, and the rest of the regiment marched down to the Cashmere gate. Within, in the main guard, was a detachment of the 38th Native Infantry. While facing them, the rebels were surging down towards the gate. The 38th refused to fire, and the 54th excused themselves on the score of not being loaded. While they were loading, Ripley was cut down, and with him fell Smith, Burrowes, Edwards and Waterfield.

A month later sepoys under General Hugh Wheeler, commander of the garrison at Cawnpore, rebelled and besieged hastily-erected British defences. Another of my first cousins five times removed, Cornet Charles Mainwaring of the 6th Bengal Light Cavalry, was on lookout on the night of 22 June 1857:

All night long a series of false charges and surprises were made on the barrack, and not a man for an instant left his post. Towards dawn, the enemy being more quiet, Mr Mainwaring, a cavalry cadet, one of Captain Thomson’s picket, begged him to lie down, while he kept a look-out. Scarcely had the captain closed his eyes when Mainwaring shouted, “Here they come!” The enemy, with more pluck than they had hitherto shown, advanced close up to the doorway of the barrack. Mainwaring’s revolver despatched two of the enemy.

Charles Mainwaring survived the attack but Wheeler’s entrenchment was starving. Kingston continues “on the 25th of June General Wheeler entered into arrangements for the evacuation of the place with Nana Sahib. The next day the survivors proceeded to the river to embark on board boats prepared for them, when, with a treachery almost unparalleled in history, by the order of that demon in human shape, they were fired on and mostly killed.” Mainwaring was one of those killed in the infamous massacre.

Mainwaring is remembered on a tablet in All Souls Church, Cawnpore:

To the glory of God and in memory of more than a thousand Christian people, who met their deaths hard by, between 6th June & 15th July 1857. These tablets are placed in this the Memorial Church. All Souls Cawnpore by the Government N.W.P.
2nd Light Cavalry - Major E. Vibart. Capt E.J. Seppings, Wife and Children. Capt R.U. & Mrs Jenkins. Lieut R.O. Quin. Lieut C.W. Quin. Lieut J.H. Harrison. Lieut W.J. Manderson. Lieut F.S.M Wren. Lieut M.G. Daniell. Lieut M. Balfour. Cornet W.A. Stirling. Surgn. W.R. & Mrs Boyes. Vety. Surgn. E.G. Chalwin & Wife. Ridg. Mr. D. Walsh, Wife & Children. Sergt. Major H. Cladwell. Qr. Mr. Sergt. F. & Mrs Tress. Cornet C. Mainwaring 6th L.C. Lieut A.J. Boulton, 7th L.C.

Three of Charles Mainwaring’s brothers—Rowland, George, and Norman, were also caught up in the mutiny.

When the mutiny broke out in 1857, the first of these, Captain R.R. Mainwaring, was second-in-command of the 7th Regiment Bengal Native Infantry. This regiment mutinied at Dinapur with the 8th and 40th. In his 1927 A Postscript To The Records Of The Indian Mutiny, Lieutenant-Colonel George Gimlette wrote:

The mutiny of this regiment together with that of the other two of the B.N.I. at Dinapur (8th and 40th) was precipitated by the weakness of the General commanding at that station; an old, inefficient man. Strongly urged by the European community of Calcutta the Governor-General had given permission, but not an order, to General Lloyd to disarm the three regiments. This as an old, infatuated sepoy officer, he was loath to do, and could only make up his mind to a fatal half measure, that of depriving them of their percussion caps. On the morning of July 25th, 1857, the European troops in the station, 10th Foot, two Companies of the 37th, and a Company of Artillery, were paraded in the great square, the caps in the magazine were removed by an officer with a small guard, and brought into the square. The sepoys of the 7th made noisy demonstrations, and threatened to prevent the removal; they were, however, pacified by their officers. At 10 o’clock an order was issued by General Lloyd for a parade of the three N.I. Regiments, and the collection of the caps in the sepoys’ possession. The immediate result was open mutiny. The men seized their arms and began to fire on their officers. The European troops were again paraded, but their advance was so delayed that the mutineers got clear away in the direction of Arrah, where the disaffected Rajput landowner, Kunwar Singh, at once joined them with all his followers.

A telegram from Colonel Rowcroft at Dinapore on 8 October 1857 to the Chief of Staff mentions Captain Mainwaring, 7th Regiment Native Infantry, commands 50 Nujeebs [irregular militia, of good family] in the opium godowns, Patna.

George Byers Mainwaring, Charles Mainwaring’s second brother, was a considerable linguist, fluent in both Hindi and Urdu. In 1854 he had returned to England where he spent three years. He was recalled to India in 1857 at the time of the mutiny and was employed as interpreter with 42nd and 49th Regiments. He was first posted first to Cawnpore and then the Punjab region.

Norman William Mainwaring, Charles Mainwaring’s third brother, probably saw some of the mutiny, for though he was stationed in South Africa in the early part of 1857, by 1858 he had returned to India.

Another relative, my 3rd great uncle Major Orfeur Cavenagh, survived the mutiny. In a letter of 1868 (Private letter book, 11) he describes his role in its suppression:

In 1854, at the special request of the then Governor General Lord Dalhousie, [I] accepted the appointment on his staff of Town Major of Fort William [the fort in Calcutta]. In this capacity as the Governor General’s representative, [I] recommended the numerous alterations in the European Barracks and other buildings as well as general sanitary improvements, which have led to the ordinarily satisfactory state of health of the Garrison.
On the 26th January, 1857, [these measures] frustrated the design of the Mutineers to seize Fort William (vide statement of Jemadar Durrion Sing, 34th Regiment, N.I.).
Throughout the Mutiny discharged all the arduous duties connected with the command of Fort William and Calcutta, including the charge of the state prisoners, the raising a Corps of Volunteers, the organisation of a body of Native Servants for the use of the troops arriving from England, the management of a large Military Canteen, the protection of the town, the control of all Public Departments, Military Buildings, Hospitals, etc., and the entire charge (arming, clothing and victualling) of all European invalids and recruits, numbering several thousands, of the company’s service. On four occasions received the thanks and commendation of the Supreme Government.

In recognition of his services during the Indian Mutiny Orfeur Cavenagh was offered the post of Governor of the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malaya and Penang). He accepted and became Governor for eight years from 1859 to 1867.

The causes immediate and long-term of the Indian Mutiny are still debated by historians. No doubt my relatives had their own opinions. For them, however, it was no academic debate but a bloody vicious turbulent period of their lives and, unfortunately for some, a violent death.